The Wired Library

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Bob Kruger
Posted on Tuesday, March 30, 2004 - 09:01 pm:   

I'd like to know whether and/or how people use eBooks. If you don't, what killer app would get you interested in them?

Here are a couple links that may inform discussion on this topic:

http://www.projectgutenberg.info -- Of all the Gutenberg mirror sites for free eBooks, this one seems easiest and most useful to use. A lot of the 27,000 books are in HTML, so I can save the source out to my desktop and convert them to a Rocket eBook in about a minute. I'm reading Plutarch's Lives right now. I read a Clark Ashton Smith story last night.

http://www.e-ink.com/news/index.html -- This is the digital-ink project under the Phillips Electronics aegis. Very soon we'll see a sort of flexible paper screen that has the resolution and reflectivity of an ink-jet printout, a screen that also maintains its current image without the application of current, so it consumes very, very little electricity.

For me, the killer device has already come and gone. The Rocket eBook did everything I needed an eBook to do. Its library software pulled in HTML and created an archived an eBook in just a few seconds; it had a rechargeable battery that lasted all weekend; it had a back light and easy navigation and search features, and it was the right size (though it would have been improved by being lighter and having sharper text and greater storage capacity).

There are many reasons to like eBooks: they don't take up any physical space; you can build a library of tens of thousands of public-domain classics for free and copyrighted books for cheap (as long as you can wait for a new release to go into paperback, at which point the major publishers generally drop the eBook price from hardback to paperback price); the text is searchable; you can buy dictionaries for foreign language books that are integrated with the reading software so that you can instantly bring up the definition of a word, even from any of its declensions and conjugations (the Spanish dictionary for Mobipocket Reader is amazing). However, the thing that makes eBooks indispensable for me, that elevates them from a mere novelty to something of serious practical value, is that I can read in bed without disturbing my wife, who can't even stand to have a booklight on.

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Bruce Chrumka
Posted on Friday, April 23, 2004 - 03:23 pm:   

Hi Bob,

I can appreciate your comment about reading in bed without disturbing the wife. I understand some guy learned Braille with the intent of reading in a cold winter's bed, in the dark with the duvet pulled up.

I havenít had much exposure to eBooks or digital pleasure reading, probably because a lot of my work day consists of staring at a flatscreen and Iíve a prehistoric preference for collecting hardcovers and trade paperbacks, but have a comment concerning what I'd like to see in an eBook.

I prefer reading while holding down a couch or overstuffed chair with the book propped comfortably on my gut. Our cat likes this because you can stay inert for hours and provide a warm, reasonably soft sleeping place. Anyway. I'd like a thin, lightweight tablet that would emulate as closely as possible a single screen of text with the option of continuous scrolling, font size and type selection, backlit screen, long battery life, enormous storage, ease of downloading, etc.
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Bob K.
Posted on Sunday, April 25, 2004 - 11:34 am:   

Thanks for weighing in, Bruce. As I said on the panel at the Nebulas last week, in addition to the kind of device you describe, you may want a pda-type reader for its portability. For reading the newspaper, you may want a windowshade screen in a pen device; for books, something sturdier with a backlight. So eventually your library may consist of a computer that affords access to a million books and then a shelf of devices for different situations. I have a Rocket eBook and a pda. The pda gets more use because it's always with me, but the Rocket is great for reading and marking up manuscripts.

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